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“I’ve never seen a more relentless player”: In Celebration of Lynx Legend Rebekkah Brunson

The Minnesota Lynx retired Rebekkah Brunson’s No. 32 following a win over Las Vegas last Sunday night.

(Video courtesy of Twitter/@minnesotalynx)

Every time her Minnesota Lynx teammates heard her introduction — “6-2 outta Georgetown. The. Ma. CHINE. Rebekkah Brunson!” — they knew what they were getting from Rebekkah Brunson.

A consistently dependable, tireless worker who stopped at nothing, doing whatever it took to help her team win games. That drive produced historic results. Brunson is the only player in WNBA history to win five championships, and she rightfully had her #32 retired and lifted into the rafters at Target Center last Sunday night.

Rebekkah Brunson is my favorite teammate of all-time because she’s the most consistent person you’ll ever meet,” Hall of Famer, five-time All-Star and four-time WNBA Champion Lindsay Whalen said during Brunson’s jersey retirement ceremony. “There was never a question if she was gonna work hard, there was never a question of ‘I wonder what kind of mood Becky’s going to be in. I wonder how hard she’s gonna work today, I wonder if she’s going to put in 250 shots after practice every day.’ It was just a constant in my life.”

Brunson — a five-time All-Star and seven-time member of the WNBA All-Defensive team — instilled a daily championship work ethic in her teammates, because she went 110% in everything she did, every single day, getting extra possessions on the glass or laying her body on the line for 50/50 balls.

“She just would physically put herself out there in a way that you could count on, whether it was in shootaround, a game, it didn’t matter what it was, she was always the same. So she had that, I call it a will. It was internal,” four-time WNBA Champion Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said about Brunson after a practice last week. “That’s why she was so special and every team that she was on had success.”

Her teammates know that they wouldn’t be one-time, two-time, three-time or four-time WNBA Champions without everything that Brunson gave them in games, in practice, on travel days, and everywhere in between.

Game 5 2015 WNBA Finals Indiana Fever v Minnesota Lynx
Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

“That’s why we have all of that, is because of Brunson,” Whalen added. “She’s the most consistent person ever. Consistency is greatness and that is Rebekkah Brunson.”

Brunson is best known for doing all the dirty work. She is still the WNBA’s all-time leading offensive rebounder (1,166) and retired as the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder before Sylvia Fowles broke her record. A relentless defender with an indomitable spirit, Brunson’s mastery of the little things that drive winning won over every teammate and coach she ever had.

She just made people’s life a nightmare,” said Fowles — a seven-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, the 2017 MVP, and two-time Finals MVP and WNBA Champion — in a tribute video to Brunson. “You put BB on your best player, and her defense was, like, spectacular.”

Very few players could dominate a game with their unrelenting energy and heart, but Brunson was one of them.

“She did all the dirty work for us, the stuff that people somewhat overlook,” four-time WNBA Champion, eight-time All-Star and long-time Lynx teammate Seimone Augustus said. “She made you pay attention to the rebounding aspect of the game and the defensive aspect of the game because of how dominant she was.”

BB stands alone in Reeve’s mind.

I’ve never seen a more relentless player. I’ve never coached a more relentless player,” Reeve declared. “Relentlessness — the core of that is a will. She has a will to outwork.”

“That’s what makes her special, is that throughout all this was her body of work, her life’s work, and she did it with grace, with just a will to win,” six-time All-Star and 2011 WNBA Champion Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. “You don’t often have that talent with that type of personality. And I think with Rebekkah Brunson we got the best of both. And I was thankful to be able to play with someone like that.

WNBA Finals G5 - Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Players who score the most points, or dish out the most assists, or make fancy plays may get the most shine. Other franchises that haven’t experienced winning on the same level as the Minnesota Lynx may not have fully appreciated everything Brunson brought, but not the Lynx.

“Somebody might want to say, ‘I want to be the best, all-time leading scorer.’ Somebody might want to say, ‘I want to have the most rebounds or the most assists.’ But for me, it’s always been about winning,” Brunson said about her legacy of being the ultimate winner. “That’s how I approached every team that I played with. ‘What can I do to continue to win?’ So for me, I mean, that’s the best thing that I could have possibly asked from this game.”

That teammates-first, inspiring attitude is reflected in her response about what she was most looking forward to about her jersey going up into the rafters.

“First and foremost, and it’s an honor to be able to hang out with Whay for a little while longer and hang out with Seimone for a little while longer,” Brunson told Canis Hoopus. “I think it’s important [that] everything that we’ve done as far as being athletes and being advocates for women, continues with being in the rafters. Because no matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing, we have the ability to continue to inspire the generations that are coming after us.”

Everyone who has walked the halls of Target Center and Mayo Clinic Square adores Rebekkah Brunson. She did everything for the Lynx, for her teammates, for her coaches, for the fans.

There’s a reason the accolades of every player who praised Brunson are listed above. It speaks to the fact that the all-time greats, the giants of women’s basketball she’s suited up beside love, respect and cherish everything that Brunson gave them every single day.

“Thank you for being an awesome coach. Thank you for being a phenomenal teammate. And thank you for being a forever friend,” Fowles said during the jersey retirement ceremony. “Rebekkah Brunson, I love you, I appreciate you and I respect you forever.”

It meant the world for Brunson to have teammates, coaches and a franchise champion everything she did and the ways she impacted the game.

“I told Cheryl, I told [Lynx governor] Glen [Taylor] that you know, I’m so grateful that they believed in what I brought to the court, because it’s not always something that’s going to be valued. So, I appreciate them for seeing that in me. And I always appreciate my teammates. That’s what I do for,” Brunson told Canis Hoopus in a press conference after her jersey went up in the rafters. “To have them understand that and understand that the little things that I was able to do matter, again, that’s special.”

Fittingly, on the night the franchise retired her jersey, the Lynx routed the Las Vegas Aces in a 31-point win, embodying everything that Brunson was about. The team dominated the glass, and grabbed 15 offensive boards on the way to tying a franchise record with 53 rebounds. They flew around, competed on every possession, and proved time and time again they wanted it more than the Aces. The cherry on top? Aerial Powers setting a new career-high with, of course, 32 points — Brunson’s number.

Dallas Wings v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Dallas Wings v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Brunson’s leadership extends far beyond the four lines of the basketball court.

In July of 2016, in the wake of police killing Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, Brunson organized a pregame press conference during which she and fellow Lynx captains spoke out against the killings and advocated for change.

(Video courtesy of Twitter/@minnesotalynx)

“In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided it is important to take a stand and raise our voices,” Brunson said in a statement. “Tonight, we’ll be wearing shirts to honor and mourn the loss of precious American citizens and to plead for change in all of us.”

2014 MVP, six-time All-Star, 2013 Finals MVP and four-time WNBA Champion Maya Moore felt the power of Brunson’s leadership in that moment.

“We wanted to be more human than professional basketball players in that moment,” she said. “Rebekkah’s words were very powerful in that press conference and I was very proud to be next to her and the other captains in that moment.”

“I think that was pretty much a turning moment as a team to be like, ‘Hey, look, we have something so special that we can do to reach the community and how can we approach it without stepping on toes, but also letting our voices be heard,’” Fowles added. “BB was the full force of that.”

Brunson made sure to use her platform and her voice in her jersey retirement speech as well, noting that the moment is about inspiring the next generation.

“There are a lot of other ways that we need to make room and inspire and give the ability for young women to achieve their goals,” Brunson said. “So let’s make sure, in everything that we do and every decision that we make, we’re intentional about those things to make space for there to be a lot more numbers up there in the rafters, for there to be a lot more women out here that are living out their dreams, whatever those dreams may be.”

From now on, every time players walk out onto the floor and fans file into their seats, and they look up at the south end of Target Center, they’ll see a huge 32 banner in its rightful home.

Brunson wants it to be a symbol of hard work.

“That’s one of the things that separated me, that no matter what it was, I was gonna go out there and compete and I’m gonna leave everything that I had on the court,” she said after a practice last week. “At the end of the day, it’s about being selfish in the way that you approach the game, but being selfless in the way that you play. I always played for my teammates, and that allowed us to have all those banners that are up there right now.”

That’s also the lesson she wants her Lynx players, the next generation, and her son, Graham, to learn from her career.

“If you don’t cheat the game, if you are committed to figuring out how to be successful, then most likely you will find success,” Brunson said in a press conference after the ceremony. “I always go back to advice that I got in Sacramento about whatever it is that you’re going to do, do it to the best of your ability. Do it to a point where if you’re not playing, you earn time on the floor, and then do it so well that the coach doesn’t know how to take you off the floor. ... So I always tell our players to be committed to the details of the game and be committed to that thing that makes you great.”

Her legacy as a player is unmatched — as a winner, as a teammate, as a leader, and as an advocate for change.

“That’s the legacy, is that this is a player who didn’t get all the accolades, wasn’t in the MVP conversation. But those of us that are around the game understand what it takes to win. How [is] she not in the MVP conversation all the time? How [is] she not Defensive Player of the Year every year?” Reeve asked in the tribute video.

“The rings speak to all that. There’s no other player that’s got five rings.”

WNBA Finals G5 - Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

You can watch the full Lynx tribute video to Brunson below.